Sunset in Dunedin, Florida

Caring for ourselves is essential, and many times we put caring for ourselves last on our to do list. How many of you are saying amen to this? I have been down this road a few times and have learned the hard way to pay attention to my body, spirit and intuition.

When my mother was dying I put forth tremendous energy toward supporting and loving her. At the time she learned she was ill I lived in Hawaii and she lived in Indiana. Not only did I fly back and forth three times in a three month period, but I called her nearly daily and sent her either a post card, card or letter every single day. The amount of energy, love and time I focused on my mother and helping her get through her illness until her death was extraordinary.

It took a serious toll on my emotions and my life. I found myself at times so desperately exhausted and out of sorts that I realized it had been far too long since I had taken time for myself or anything that approached fun. After a few short weeks I found myself overcome by the strain of my mother’s illness. It was a constant battle to keep my spirit focused and my every day life on track, I realized at that point I had to make time for myself in order to be the support she needed. What comes to mind is the statement that all flight attendants make during the safety demonstration. In an emergency put your oxygen mask on before assisting your child. Let’s be realistic, you can’t help another if you can’t help yourself first.

So if you are currently facing a similar situation what can you do to help yourself when you barely have time to make it through every day?

First, realize that you’re days will flow smoother if you are in a better mental space. Realistically you’re going a through a roller coaster of emotion due to the extreme situation you are facing. But there are things you can do to make it a little better. Below is my list of ten things that will help you bear the unbearable in these painful times.

1. Find time for silence, prayer or meditation. Even if you take only 15 minutes to focus your mind, pray or meditate it will help you maintain a calmness that can help you through the rough moments.

2. Focus in short spans of time, or on single event/tasks. This helped me so much after losing my mother. If I had used this technique during her illness it may have helped me. By keeping my focus on what I could do in a single half hour, rather than worrying about the dozens of things I needed to do ithroughout the day I was more calm and actually better able to deal with my day and was far less likely to lose it. Focusing on a single task allows a calmness that we cannot get when we are springing from one task to another and are split in ten different directions while dealing with the emotional upheaval that comes naturally from dealing with the serious illness of a loved one.

3 Find something that brings you pleasure and MAKE TIME FOR IT. It can be something as simple as the ritual of taking a long bath with candles and prayer. It can be a walk with your dog. It might be a late night comedy DVD that makes you laugh deeply and allows a release of emotion and pent up pain.

4. Sleep is key, get adequate rest. This is essential in helping you maintain your strength and emotional focus during a painful time. If you think I’m kidding, go back to the flight attendant rule for safety. Put your oxygen mask on before attempting to help another. You aren’t capable of helping others if you are not first taking care of yourself.

5. Find a friend and share your pain. Share your fears and allow your friend to be there in your darkest moments. I cannot emphasize this enough. When my mother died my friend Tammy was my life preserver. She allowed me to cry, yell and release my pain anytime I needed it. Ten years later I still remember the depth of her friendship and how much of a support she was to me in one of the most painful times in my life.

6. Remove yourself from the situation at least once a week and do something very normal like going to lunch with a friend. Go for a beautiful drive or walk on the beach. Take time to breath and rejuvinate yourself.

7. Gratitude.. I know that during a family health crisis is the most difficult time to think about being grateful, the depth of pain we are experiencing is so tremendous that we feel life as we know it is over. Yet in this time, we need to keep our focus and remember there are at least small things that we can be grateful for. Gratefulness changes our energy and our allows to focus for a single moment on the positive.

8. Create a network of care givers. This is so essential in not becoming overwhelmed with the care of a loved one or friend. Create a chart of mornings, afternoon and evenings when various people can be available. Another list can be created for friends or family to cook meals. Cooking is absolutely impossible when situations demands us to care for a loved one.

9. Create an email or phone chain. This way time and effort are shared. This way one person is not burdened with the effort of keeping everyone updated. Having access to email helps tremendously in keeping friends and loved ones far away in constant touch with a family crisis and offers them a small comfort in a painful time.

10. Reach out to your loved ones and create an umbrella of love that enfolds and surrounds all of you through the difficult and painful time. The support of the whole will help in the most painful moments.